Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Top 10 Things Intervate is Excited About, About SharePoint 2013 – Part 1


(This article will take 15 minutes to read) 
 
Microsoft SharePoint 2013 has been released to volume licence customers since November 2012 and the general release was announced in March 2013. The excitement over SharePoint 2013 has been notable.

The SharePoint 2013 release builds on the already robust and versatile SharePoint 2010 engine and the changes in this release, which I believe will have the biggest impact are ‘user experience’ features. By ‘user experience’ I refer to improvements and features that make using SharePoint easier and more intuitive and are going to be practical to the information worker and administrator alike, in terms of delivering business value by improving collaboration, improving productivity, and reducing costs. SharePoint 2013 is not only a comprehensive Enterprise Content Management (ECM) platform, but also a user friendly and easy to use solution that should greatly improve user adoption within companies.
Gartner 2012 Magic Quadrant for ECM - SharePoint 2010



The features in this release are what most information workers and knowledge workers have been asking for, for a while, but the implementation of this technology still needs a business driver to realise the benefits. Just because it’s a cool feature doesn’t mean that it’s going to meet the needs of your business or help you fulfil your mission or objectives.

However, with a small amount of effort it is relatively straight forward for an ECM consultant from a Microsoft partner who is familiar with your business to identify areas of your business that could benefit from aspects of what the SharePoint solution could offer.

At Intervate we are very excited about the year ahead and the opportunity SharePoint 2013 will provide to businesses. SharePoint 2013 has introduced a plethora of new features and capabilities that delivers across a wide range of workloads which will appeal to a broader audience.

SharePoint 2013 has embraced the cloud through SkyDrive Pro, mobile through the enhanced capability for intuitive and functional mobile access and has taken a huge leap forward in social business and web content management spaces to the point that SharePoint 2013 will most likely lead the way in mainstream enterprise content management solutions through 2013 and beyond.

Intervate ran a pre-launch event in Cape Town and Johannesburg on the 4th and 5th February 2013 respectively, in which we looked at ‘the top 10 things that we are excited about, about SharePoint 2013”, and if you were not one of the lucky 150 people that managed to attend, here is the countdown.

Number 1 – Easier to use productivity features – this is going to really drive user adoption

Drag and drop content uploading. It sounds futuristic in a business application, yet this already exists in many forms today. You always could drag and drop documents and other files into folders from the earliest Windows days, yet it took a decade to see this type of ‘ease of use’ find its way into SharePoint. It really is as simple as it sounds – you can drag a document from your desktop into a SharePoint 2013 document library and there it is…in SharePoint. No multiple clicks, navigating dialogue boxes and selecting files. If you are an information worker that is regularly uploading content to SharePoint, you will save appreciable time and be able to focus on the actual task at hand.


Document Preview
New live document previews also provide the ability to ‘look’ at documents without opening the associated applications.

The ability to have visual reminders of who you have shared the document with further compliments the new user friendly and intuitive interface. The new ‘follow’ feature allows you to track the updates to a document, and you can follow people and sites and this information is surfaced in your activity feed.

The productivity features are designed not only to improve your personal and collective productivity but also to give a much improved experience in the process.

Number 2 – Improved social features


SharePoint 2013 Newsfeed
At last the newsfeed on the new MySites facilitates a threaded conversation!. This was an aspect of functionality that was lacking in SharePoint 2010, especially considering that a threaded conversation was an essential part of any social conversation since forums first appeared in the 1980’s – or am I showing my age? The expected social ‘actions’ are now also present, including ‘Like’ and ‘Reply’ and the ability to select people from an intuitive people picker that is accessed through the “@” character. The picker also returns matches as you type. It’s all very standard in Facebook and Twitter but SharePoint 2010 was sorely lacking capabilities that people have come to expect and need in an information management solution.

Number 3 – Enhanced web building and authoring tools and simplified licensing

One of the barriers to using SharePoint as web content management (WCM) platform previously was the Internet connector licence or FIS (For Internet Site). This FIS licence, required for hosting websites and extranets was an additional ‘product’ that came at a price. The price barrier coupled with a lack of WCM features which were available in other best of breed web site platforms led most companies to consider alternatives for their WCM needs. This has now changed in SharePoint 2013 and the WCM tools, which are significantly enhanced, are now bundled with SharePoint 2013.

SharePoint’s WCM capabilities have developed to the point that SharePoint 2013 will compete strongly against most other WCM platforms in terms of features, performance and robustness. SharePoint 2013 will also start to turn the heads of not just corporate enterprises with existing SharePoint licenses but also new customers considering SharePoint 2013 as a serious WCM contender.


Gartner 2012 WCM MQ
In 2012, Gartner positioned Microsoft SharePoint 2010 as a challenger in their WCM magic quadrant. I am sure we will see SharePoint 2013 nudge towards the Leaders Quadrant in 2013.

Through SharePoint 2013, Microsoft have delivered a WCM solution that finally addresses the needs of commercial websites to deliver not just an effective user experience and interface but also be able to support online marketing through Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and SEO related practices to achieve visibility in today’s vast swathes of content on the Internet.

SEO optimisation is now native in SharePoint 2013 and provides support for XML sitemaps, customised SEO properties, Meta tags and keywords.


SEO Fields
Friendly URL’s are now finally available in SharePoint 2013. In SharePoint 2010 you could have ended up with a URL like http://yourcompanyname.com/Pages/Products.aspx#/ID=654&Source=http%2%%2F10101 .

A friendly URL by comparison would be http://yourcompanyname.com/products/tv .

This is a momentous improvement and delivers a more effective SEO tool and user experience.

These two enhancements alone will impress digital agencies who have long discounted SharePoint as a true WCM platform due its inability to effectively manage the needs of SEO.

Content authoring has also been a challenge in the past because most content authors want to write content in Microsoft Word and then copy and paste into SharePoint. In previous versions of SharePoint this would be a problem because the content copied from the source would include markup from Word, which when pasted into the SharePoint content editor would change the style or the page layout or both. Now content authors have an improved experience. Content authors can copy content from Word and paste it directly into a Rich Text Editor Web Part, Content Editor Web Part, or an HTML field control on a page. SharePoint 2013 will also render semantically correct HTML markup in the styles that are on the page created by the site owner or designer.

Furthermore site owners and designers can customise the global and current navigation menus by dragging and dropping menu items directly on the page. Clearly this is not something that you would do lightly and without testing first on a QA platform, but the availability of this type of user based administration negates the need for an experienced software developer. This is a huge step in delivering a significant level of control to the information worker in the marketing and communications team.


Image Renditions
Image renditions is another huge benefit to content authors. In previous versions of SharePoint there were challenges around managing the images for articles or posts and the associated images for the thumbnails of those articles. SharePoint 2010 just could not resize on the fly which through my own experience was a real disappointment and quite a pain. Now with SharePoint 2013, image renditions facilitates the uploading of full size images and then the creation of versions of the same image cropped into defined sizes which can be used for thumbnails or other purposes. This is the same idea as Facebook’s profile picture where you can crop an existing photograph of yourself to include as your profile picture thumbnail. Well done Microsoft for adding this feature – I can hear web content managers everywhere saying the same thing: “about time!”.

For the creative folk and user experience designers out there you will be relieved to hear that the need to work within SharePoint Designer or Visual Studio has now been relaxed. As a designer you can now use your tool of choice, whether that is Adobe Dreamweaver or one of the other mainsteam HTML editors. The branding for a site can be created by implementing the HTML, CSS and JavaScript created through these tools. Are we tempting the agency folk yet?

Number 4 – SkyDrive Pro – for rich SharePoint offline

Let’s start with what SkyDrive Pro is and the differences between SkyDrive Pro and SkyDrive, because SkyDrive Pro is different to Sky Drive.

SkyDrive is a free online storage solution that provides you with a personal library where you can upload and manage files from any device, share them with your friends and collaborate on the content. The content is held in the cloud and is synchronised to your devices that have the SkyDrive application installed. SkyDrive works the same as Dropbox and the other personal cloud storage providers.

SkyDrive Pro is also an online storage solution that also provides you with a personal library, but your SkyDrive Pro library is managed by your organisation and is only available as a part of Office 365 or SharePoint 2013. The content in SkyDrive Pro can only be shared with colleagues within your organisation or with invited guests if they are logged into Office 365. SkyDrive Pro facilitates synchronizing content from SharePoint 2013 to the cloud and then to your devices that have a SkyDrive Pro application installed.


SkyDrive Pro
The benefit of SkyDrive Pro to the corporate user is that you can save documents directly to SkyDrive Pro from Office desktop applications or synchronise them directly from SharePoint 2013. Furthermore enterprise IT teams will feel relieved that they have a little more control over the company information that is being sent to the cloud and disseminated to others.
This will be most useful for mobile information workers including marketing and sales, executives, regional managers and others that spend time away from the office.

Number 5 – eDiscovery

Let’s start with what is eDiscovery. eDiscovery is the process of identifying, delivering and securing electronic information that can be used as evidence in a legal investigation or procedure. eDiscovery has been enhanced in SharePoint 2013 and coupled with Exchange 2013, SharePoint 2013 can now create a eDiscovery set to identify and locate specific material and then preserve the sites and mailboxes in which the content was found.

SharePoint 2013 then provides the ability to further refine the content that is relevant, preview the content and export the content as eDRM, which is an XML standard for eDiscovery data and in turn can be combined with stand-alone eDiscovery tools.


SharePoint 2013 eDiscovery Walk through Example
Some of the key features of the enhanced eDiscovery in SharePoint 2013 include a ‘Case Manager’ which enables records managers to create and manage enterprise-wide discovery projects, place potentially large amounts and various types of content on hold, and preserve a snapshot of content. ‘In-Place Holds’, another key new feature, enables a legal practitioner to preserve a snapshot of content while ensuring that users can continue to make changes without disturbing the state of the content snapshot. And lastly the ‘Analytics’, which enable legal practitioners, administrators, and records managers to collect and analyse data about eDiscovery activity.

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Part 2 of this article can be found here: Part 2